After more than three years of political wrangling, the departure of two prime ministers, and dozens of furious protests across the United Kingdom, Brexit is finally happening.
At 23:00 GMT on Friday, January 31, the UK will officially end its 47-year membership of the European Union – becoming the first country ever to leave the bloc, and enter a transition period scheduled to end on December 31, 2020.
Friday’s breaking of the ranks does not signal the end of Brexit, but the start of a new, potentially tumultuous chapter in the saga, leaving the UK just 11 months to negotiate a deal to be agreed by all 27 remaining EU states.
This week saw the final debate over the UK’s departure from the EU take place in Brussels.
After Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) backed the terms of the Brexit agreement, they broke out into song.
The Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato cried as she spoke of her hopes to one day return to the chamber, while the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage and his colleagues were admonished for waving Union flags.
For about half of the UK population – 52 percent voted to quit the bloc in the June 2016 referendum – Brexit day is being greeted with long-awaited celebrations.
Street parties are set to take place across the nation.
The Conservative member of Parliament for Dover has called for fireworks so spectacular they can be seen from France, and more than 10,000 people are expected to flood the streets of Westminster from 21:00 GMT to mark what Farage, a hard-right figure who campaigned to leave, has called “a huge moment” in the UK’s history.
But for the other half – the 48 percent who voted to remain – it is a day of mourning.
The transition period
During the 11-month transition period, “nothing in reality will change”, said Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London.
The UK will continue to follow all of the EU’s rules and its trading relationship will remain the same, but it will not be part of EU political institutions and there will be no British members of the European Parliament.
“The vast majority of individuals and businesses won’t notice anything,” said Portes.
The government’s first priority will be to arrange a trade deal for future commercial relations with Europe if it wants to avoid economic losses with its largest trading partner, but analysts question whether a comprehensive deal can be achieved in 11 months – a deadline Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted upon.
“It’s a very quick timeline and not a huge amount of room for a bespoke agreement,” said Marley Morris, associate director at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a London-based think-tank.